Wildfires are raging in Colorado. Governments are teetering in sundry corners of the globe. Christians are being murdered for their faith by roving bands of Muslims. These are all real, true, painful hardships. There are human beings losing their homes, their wealth, their lives. Prayer is fitting. Mercy ministry makes perfect sense. And we are called to mourn with those who mourn. Let nothing that follows diminish faithful Christian response to any hardship anywhere.
That said, there are a number of dangers that come with consuming the news. That these are dangers does not mean everyone or even anyone always falls into them. It does mean we should be on our guard. The first danger is when we try to put ourselves in the news by proxy. We sometimes compete with our friends to see who can get closest to the big story- “My in-laws had to evacuate their home because of the wildfires.” “My best friend from college is a banker in Greece and that riot was outside his office.” “We support missionaries in Nigeria that meet just three blocks from where the last assault happened.” It’s a good and healthy thing to think in terms of who your neighbor is. It’s a bad and unhealthy thing to try to bask in the glow of tragedy’s fame.
In like manner a second danger is to treat the news like a movie, as an opportunity to experience emotional thrills while keeping a safe distance. We wring our hands over the fires. We stoke our indignation over overspending governments. We soak our hankies over murders in Nigeria. There is not a thing wrong with such an emotional response, if it is grounded in genuine concern and compassion for genuine human beings. There is something terribly wrong with such a sentimental approach that, like a cyber-vampire, feeds on distant tragedy.
Which leads us to the third danger. We skew our view when our consumption of great and distant hardship dulls our senses to common and close hardship. I have spent the last nine days in two different children’s hospitals in Orlando. I didn’t come here as a pastor, but as a father. My daughter Shannon, God willing, will go home with me today after battling infection, dangerously low potassium and cluster seizures. I have been on a rollercoaster ride, moving from fear that we would lose her to gratitude for her care, and confidence she will get well. Such, I am sure, is not the case for all the children here. Some parents are here knowing their children will not get well. This, on the one hand, is rather ordinary. People die all the time. They get incurable cancer. Complications of renal tubular acidosis create myocardial infarctions in little girls. On the other hand, the commonness, the fact that these hardships won’t make the news doesn’t mean the heartsickness is any less. How often are we able to summon great concern for those far away that we can’t help, but remain unable to serve, or comfort those who are close, whom we can help?
We would be wise to remember that people are people. They don’t become more than human because their story is on the news. They don’t become less than human when their story is not on the news. We would be wise to remember as well that tragedy and hardship are common to man. Staying off the news, and even staying out of hospitals will not make you immune. And finally, we would be wise to give thanks in all things. God will one day take home Shannon. But for fourteen years so far He has blessed me, and everyone she knows. God has sent fires into the homes of believers and unbelievers alike, that in part they would learn to not put their trust in earthly treasures. God has toppled pretentious states for the same reason. And He calls home His martyrs, who are witnesses of His glory. Close or far, large or small, the God Lord reigns over all.
There is, in the end, no such thing as news. There are only people’s lives, and the Lord who orders them. Better to live our lives together than to watch others live theirs alone.